Apr 24, 2019
Jen, Annie and Lauren are joined by Renae Regehr of Free To Be Talks to discuss how to support our middle school kids in developing media literacy and better body image. Teaching kids to navigate social media and the messages about their bodies is so important. Learn what to say when you don’t know what to say and enjoy this stimulating conversation.
What you’ll hear in this episode:
Hillary McBride podcast mothers daughters body image
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Annie: Welcome to Balance365 Life radio, a podcast that delivers honest conversations about food, fitness, weight, and wellness. I'm your host Annie Brees along with Jennifer Campbell and Lauren Koski. We are personal trainers, nutritionists and founders of Balance365. Together we coach thousands of women each day and are on a mission to help them feel healthy, happy, and confident in their bodies on their own terms. Join us here every week as we discuss hot topics pertaining to our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing with amazing guests. Enjoy.
Annie: Welcome to Balance365 Life radio. This is your host Annie Brees and today we are talking about middle schoolers and media. Media is reaching our youth younger and younger by the day. In fact, the average kid spends eight hours a day consuming media and it's one of the primary reasons as to why 40% of six to 12 year olds don't like who they are because of how they look. Negative body image, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are on the rise, but thankfully women like Renae Regehr are taking action against that. Renae founded Free To Be Talks, a nonprofit organization that promotes positive body image which gives tools to youth, parents and educators to help them filter through media and develop their individual strengths.
Through her MA of Counseling Psychology, Renae developed and tested a research based curriculum inside Free To Be and to date over 2,500 boys and girls have gone through the program. Renae is a registered clinical counselor and also contributing blogger for the Huffington Post and her work has been featured in Time, Darling, Good Men Project, Everyday Feminism and many more. On today's episode, Renae, Jen and I discuss three important points in helping middle school age children develop positive body image and if you listen to the very end, Renae shares a really special gift and opportunity with our listeners. I know you're going to love this episode. Enjoy
Annie: Ladies, we have a full house today. Again, we have a special guest. Renee, welcome. How are you?
Renae: I'm good. Thank you so much for having me.
Annie: I am so excited to have you here because Jen has just raved about everything that you're doing. Can you tell, how did you and Jen meet?
Renae: We met, I believe, through mutual connections.
Jen: Yeah. Through Hillary Mcbride who we've had on our podcast twice. And Hillary, I expressed to Hillary that I, you know, I do all this work and we have this worldwide audience, but I still feel my ultimate vision for my life is that I'm actually making an impact in my community where my children are growing up. And she said, "You have to meet Renae. She runs a nonprofit called Free To Be Talks. So I started following you on Instagram and then as soon, the next time you offered a training, I signed up.
Renae: Yes. And there's been some changes since then and I can't wait to talk about them.
Annie: Renae, you are a registered clinical counselor. How did you get into this Free To Be Talks, like, how did that come about?
Renae: Oh, I feel like it's been like my life work, really. But when I was going through my master's, I developed a curriculum for a group class that I was running. And at the time I had a friend that was in the school system in my hometown and she said, you know, I want to run this program. And I said, "Okay, well I've developed this rudimentary curriculum, why don't we run this body image program together?"
And so these grades six and seven girls volunteered on their lunch hour to be a part of this group. And it was so eye opening because not only did the same struggles that I had gone through when I was a teen, those things were coming up again for the girls but I would say there even more pressures that the girls were facing with the rise of social media and just different factors that were impacting them.
Renae: And so I went to my research supervisor at the time and I said, "This is what I'm doing. I'm running the program. Can I create this for my master's thesis?" And he said, "Well, if there's a problem in the literature, then yeah, go for it." So I said, "Okay, challenge accepted. And I dove deep into the research literature and I wanted to know, like, what had been done, what still needed to be done, what was helpful, what wasn't maybe so helpful.
And then from there I emerged and with this new vision of okay, this is what's been helpful, this is what we need to do. And really from that, a couple of things. One was that we needed to move more from a pathology perspective. So not just focusing on what are problems with body image, but what do we do now that we know what these problems are like, what the "So what?" to this problem here?
Renae: Where do we go from? And really utilizing them like a strengths perspective so we can deconstruct something but then we need to be able to build it back up again. And then the second thing with that is we need to include boys in this conversation and although boys have been included in this conversation, more so in the last five to 10 years, I would say, historically and previously body image has primarily been thought of as a girls issue.
And so from that I approached my supervisor and I said, "Hey, this is what I found. There is definitely a need in healthy body image programs. And so I started to create Free To Be, and I actually ran with grade tens as my first group and did the analyses with them. And although the research showed that it was effective, just my clinical intuition and when I was running the program, it felt like I was doing a lot more intervention with the kids.
Renae: And even though they were receptive and you know, we had good conversations, we then ran it with grade six and sevens. And that was really where we hit the sweet spot because these issues were becoming so relevant to them. Their bodies were starting to change, their bodies were on their mind a lot more and they were really engaging with the material. And so from there it started to just take off and I realized, you know, I can't just keep this to myself. And that always had been my vision that I wanted to expand it beyond me.
Years ago I actually had a blog and it was called Bigger Than My Voice because I wanted it to be bigger than me. And so from there after, as I was developing free to be, I realized I can make this bigger than me and I've had so many incredible women come around that have either identified with my story or have had kids that have impacted or they've had body image struggles when they were younger and they wanted to take it, run with it and teach the curriculum around North America now. So it's kind of like the short version of everything.
Annie: I love it because-
Jen: I had my own goosebump moment. It's amazing. Like I would say grade six is when I started becoming aware of my body. Like everything happened a lot for me in grade six. It was like all of a sudden boys became very, like, a thing in my life and my body started changing and a lot of, and even other girls, their bodies were changing at a more rapid rate than mine. And I was like, "What's wrong with my body?" And you just, yeah, it's grade six was, yeah, a big year for me, personally.
Renae: Yeah. Grade six, grade six, grade seven. And because girls, you know, we develop earlier than boys, you know, there's a wide range of like when we're developing and our bodies are just so much more on our minds then. And so it makes sense that to be able to be armed with tools about, you know, what's going on around us, how is this impacting us? Could be, is so helpful to be like, "I'm not weird. I'm normal, this is normal. This is normal. What we're all going through."
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. The other thing, Renae, is why I was so excited to find you is because we work with women and I like, I love working with them. I'm sure many of them are listening. I love working with them, but sometimes I start to feel like, "Oh," like I just, I feel like we're on the reactive side of, you know, building communities and treating, you know, this issue where I want it to be on the preventative. And I also wanted to be involved on the preventative side because I don't want to keep raising generations of women that just need treatment, right.
Lauren: Yeah. And I'll add to that too, like, because we work with women, we have them coming to us say, "Okay, how can I prevent this for my child? What can I do to be that preventative role model for them?"
Renae: And there's so much that parents can do. That is something that I've, that I always, when I went on, whenever we run the Free To Be program, there is a pamphlet that we hand out in the beginning and we always stress to teachers, to parents, to whoever's running the program, hand these out because these conversations that we are starting at school are so much more impactful if they can be continued at home and deepened at home and expanded at home because that's where so much learning occurs.
Annie: Absolutely. And something that I think we hear often in our community too is that women want to have these conversations or parents are obviously, we work pretty exclusively with women. They want to have these conversations with their girlfriends, with their kids, but they're so worried about if they're saying the right thing or not that they just don't say anything at all. Like, you know, "Okay, my daughter comes home and is asking about calories or someone called her fat or you know, she's being bullied or she's being picked on or she wants to lose weight or she wants to get a fitbit.
I mean it's just these daily conversations that they're almost like, I'm so worried I'm going to say the wrong thing and they're gonna like permanently feel that type of way forever and ever. So it's really great to have you on here because I actually, I said, "Can you just give us the main talking points and kind of do's and don'ts about how we can help promote positive body image for middle schoolers?" Which is like your jam, right?
Renae: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And even when you sent me that request in that talk, I was like, well, you know, we could just talk about it and where it goes because we literally could talk about this for hours and hours and hours.
Renae: But that can just be overwhelming. So-
Annie: Yes. So you came back with three, which I appreciate. These are the three, like the, really, I'm guessing kind of the big rocks that you feel are really important. If you want a place to start, these would be three good areas to spend some effort or give some attention to, yeah?
Renae: Yes. And even the way I structured those three, they are, we could talk about them in depth for a lot, a long time. And so do you want to go through them one by one? Or do you want me to sort of list them off?
Annie: Yeah, well here, the first one that you listed off was develop embodied media literacy. Not just head knowledge, but experiences that help them know and experienced their bodies as good and powerful. Can you tell me what that means?
Renae: Okay. This has become a big one for me recently because I cannot tell you enough. I go do these talks. I do these presentations in addition to running Free To Be, and I will talk to kids or I'll talk to teenagers and they're so smart. They are very smart, they're savvy, they know what's going on. And so we'll talk about Photoshop, we'll talk about appearance pressures, we'll talk about things that are impacting about social media, how it can be used as a tool for good or as a tool that can, you know, be a portal into isolation or anxiety or this comparison trap that you get stuck in and they can be so articulate and their responses and yet then they'll tell me, "Yeah, this can really impact some people, but it doesn't impact me."
Renae: And that's just not how our brains work. What we are exposed to is going to impact us. Like, my brain isn't locked in some special fortress where I'm not impacted by the messages and ideas around me. And, so they can be critical of these messages or ideas and and yet they embody them at the same time. It was, I was struck so much by this realization a couple of months ago when I was chatting with a particular group of girls and this girl was telling me about all of these things, and here she was with fake eyelashes and embodying all the appearance ideals and on her phone on Instagram scrolling through things. And it's not that wanting to invest in your appearance or following beauty trends is bad or wrong or anything like that. It's the fact that there's this disconnect that we think that things impact other people but not us.
Jen: 100% we see this all the time. I know exactly what you, they like, they know but they can't embody. There is just a total and I have been there so I get it like it's-
Renae: Yes and I get it because there's so many factors that are involved in creating our body image that go into our body image. And so I really started to stress this embodied media literacy because it's not just head knowledge. We can have head knowledge until we are blue in the face with, like, understanding something. But if we don't experience our bodies as good, as agents of power, as a place to connect with others, as something that is powerful, then a lot of the message is lost because our minds and our bodies are so connected and we need to be able to experience our bodies as good.
Renae: And so in presentations I never just talk and so much of Free to Be isn't just talking. It's experiencing your body as something that is good and moreover we're so much in relationship with others. So we need others. We need to have that experience where others experience us and we feel experienced. We receive the experience of being seen as good enough for who we are. And so there's so many things that we can do to get that embodied media literacy. But that's that embodied piece.
And then the media literacy media literacy piece is really just helping them critically digest and understand like what is going on in the media around us and not just the media, like in our friends and in our family. Because all of these fears are so important because we ended up internalizing these messages ourselves and they become our narrative and the way we live our life. And so it's not just the media literacy, the critical digestion, it's also the embodiment piece that we need those two together so much.
Jen: So would you say, Hillary McBride talked about this in her first podcast with us
because Hillary McBride experienced an eating disorder and actually she ended up in inpatient care and she talked about how she said her mom would tell her to eat her lunch at school, but she would come home and her mom's lunch would be uneaten in the fridge. And is that kind of what you're saying? Like it has to, we have to embody this message.
Renae: Yes. I'm just trying to think about the best way to say this because it's, we can tell our kids that they are, you know, they're beautiful, they're wonderful til like tell it to the moon and back. We can say that to them over and over and over again. But if they don't see us also embodying the message, if they see us, you know, talking disparagingly to ourselves. If they see us, cook a delicious meal and then we serve them this wonderful food and then we're off in the corner just eating her salad and like restricting ourselves in what we're eating.
Those, they're developing an inconsistent message about what they're about, messages about food, about their bodies. But they're learning also simultaneously that some things are good, some things are bad. And our parents model that behavior to us from such a young age. You know that from the comments that we make about, you know, "Oh, you're so beautiful," to what we eat, to how our clothes fit and we don't, I've got to stop right there for a second. We can, like, we can talk about each one those specifically-
Jen: For ever and ever and ever and ever.
Renae: Exactly but there is, our parents are so influential in how, in embodying and delivering this message and living and living this message. Yeah.
Jen: Brene Brown talks about this quite a bit. She has a book called imperfect parenting that it is the only parenting book I will ever recommend to anybody. But she talks about what do you, you know, it is far more impactful to be self compassionate than to tell your kids they should be self compassionate.
Renae: Yes, because that outer voice becomes their voice.
Renae: When they are, when you mess up as a parent and when I mess up as a parent because oh my goodness, I do mess up and I make mistakes or even simple things like I'm driving and I take the wrong turn, instead of being like, "Oh my goodness, I'm such an idiot" being like "Ah! Mistakes happen" and, or I mess up at home or I mess up doing something else. And you know, being able to repair and model that repairing and being able to model being disappointed, even with the actions that I've made. And doing that in a healthy way isn't a sign of weakness. I think it's a sign of being able to model a way of being because our emotions are, we all have emotions and they're fundamental to the way we live and experience life.
Renae: And so if I can give my children the gift of, you know, this is how, these are healthy ways that you can experience sadness or anger or like those tough emotions that don't feel comfortable, then we are, I think that's a big gift to be able to give them.
Renae: And so many body image issues, are tied to insecurities, feeling anxious, feeling not enough, feeling embarrassed, feeling shame. And nobody likes sitting with those. They're not, they're uncomfortable. And so learning to be able to sit with those as parents and model that, oh, it's such a gift and it's hard. Oh it's so hard.
Jen: It's so hard. And I also, I was talking with one of our Balance365ers about this last week. She struggles with caring for herself, you know, being self caring and self compassionate. And I think that it's important to understand that, well, not understand, but just to note, it might not feel natural for us, especially if we were raised by somebody who was, you know, very hard on herself or hard on us. And I think that was pretty typical that our parents came from a place of shaming, right, to discipline.
And Brene Brown talks in her book about how if you're a parent who, you know, didn't shame your kids, it's like you would be shamed for not shaming them. So it was just so that's how everybody parented. And so now we have this, these generations of people who really struggle with shame and there's an element that comes in as far as being self compassionate and self loving and more, having a positive body image things, a dialogue, I guess I should say.
Jen: There's such a thing as faking it til you make it right. Like, it might not feel natural, but, it's like, I just feel so strongly on the days when I just, I don't want to be self compassionate. I feel responsibility to be self compassionate for my children because I know they're watching and I never want them to question it or it to feel unnatural. I don't want them to struggle with the same things I did.
And so I just sometimes don't have the energy to be kind to myself. It's just, it's in my nature to be really hard on myself. And I think, but I always have the energy for my kids and I just, I, yeah. So even when embodiment doesn't feel natural for me I feel like I feel this sense that I have to, you know, I have to for my children. And so yeah, I think a lot of people wait to take action on them. We hear this all the time in a self love sense, but they're waiting to be kind to themselves because they're waiting to learn to love themselves, but-
Renae: They need feel that right. before they act on it, right, yeah,
Jen: Right. But it comes from actions of self care.
Renae: And it's the same thing that you would, we would tell a client that's struggling with depression. You don't wait to go for a walk. You don't wait to feel better til you go for a walk. You go for a walk and then you'll feel better. And it's the same thing with these acts of self compassion and it does feel foreign and we can validate that even in ourselves and be like, "Yeah, this feels really weird and uncomfortable but I'm still going to try it and I'm going to do it anyways because I know it's the right thing to do even if it is uncomfortable." And even as parents, you know, we want to be, we want to have shoulders that are big enough for our kids to know that, you know, they can come to us with their big emotions and our shoulders are big enough to handle and to help them to support them.
Renae: So I think there's, you know, I like what you're articulating that with our kids we want to be able to model that and you know, being aware of who is the adult and who's the child. And yet at the same time being vulnerable to model what it's like to be disappointed or to be uncomfortable with yourself. I think that, I think that it's a tension that we have to, we have to grapple with and we have to, we may not always get that right perfectly, but it's something that there's no one way or the other way that we can go in order to have a healthy relationship, we need to be able to say, "Okay, you know, this is a hard day for me. I'm having a hard day. I don't have a lot of patience right now. And then whether we tell them the details, whether that's age appropriate or not is something else to consider that we need to be mindful of, you know, depending how old they are because we don't want to put them in a parental role. But at the same time, you know, if they're older than we, even when they're younger telling them, you know, "Mommy's having a hard day or I'm having a hard day. But I'm a big girl." My daughter's two.
Jen: I'm a big girl.
Renae: I'm a big girl and I can handle it. But just, you know, teaching that, that it's okay that even as adults we have hard days too.
Annie: I think that's beautiful. It's not, so what I hear you saying Renae is that it's not that you need to, like, be perfect all the time. It's that, like, there's power in expressing, like, "Hey, I'm struggling too or this is hard for me or this is difficult or I'm overwhelmed or I'm angry about this, but this is how I'm going to handle it or this is what I'm going to do about it, or this is my choice." And I think that's great because you know, I think there is pressure to feel like, especially when it comes in terms of body image, like I said at the beginning to say all the right things all the right time and like, to have all the answers and it's like, maybe you don't know, you know, like I don't, I don't know. How do you feel about that? What do you think?
Jen: Yeah, what do you think?
Annie: -can be a great answer. Just have a discussion. Like you don't have to like have this perfect like Brene Brown answer,
Renae: Or even "Let's go find the answer together."
Renae: Right. And, that being committed to finding an answer and to finding a solution, wanting to do that together in a way that's healthy and productive not only teaches that, you know, you don't have to have all the answers, but also how to problem solve and how to, find some answers and then to be, to, to be stuck is, we all get stuck sometimes and it sucks being stuck, stuck, stuck. And, and as a parent, you know, we really want to be able to provide that roadmap. Something that has been so helpful to me, even just not even as a therapist but as like a because I have three children and they're all very different in my son's eight months old. I have two year old daughter and an eight year old son and I have this idea of, you know, how I want my kids to be and I don't want them to struggle and I don't want them to have big problems in their life, like any parent.
Renae: And yet then sometimes when I parent, I think of myself as a construction worker who, like, takes a two by four and I'm hammering together this house that I am creating. But that's totally not the way parenting works. Parenting is more like tending to a garden and it's a plot of land that has its own type of soil. Each soil is a bit different. Even when you move down the road, you know, slugs get in, there's different types of, there's amount of rain, like you have to tend to the garden and be attentive to the garden, but at the same time, the garden's going to grow the way the garden is going to grow.
There's so many things that are out of your control as the gardener and as a parent. And so learning to work with that, it also, I think that can be so freeing as well too because we can have such good intentions and we can be, we can be so invested in our kids, but there is, like, there's so many things that, just our kids' genetics, the experiences that our kids are having in school, there's so many factors that are involved in developing their body image and just even developing who they are that we can't put all the weight solely on us as parents, as directing the course of, like, this is the way they're going to be because well, A, it's going to fail because they have free will and they're going to do it and they're going to, and they're going to do things that we don't like sometimes.
Renae: But they're also going to have their own minds and learning to cultivate that in the sense of thinking of ourselves as gardeners. To me, it's such a freeing way of thinking, freeing but also a huge element of responsibilities still in parenting and you know, realizing we don't have to be perfect parents but we have to be attentive and attuned and that's so much more, I think, gracious comes to my mind. Like we can be gracious with ourselves and we can even start that self compassion talk with ourselves too. Because sometimes our kids do things that we just, we just don't like. And it's, it's, we can, yeah, we can learn to be still present and attuned and still tend to the garden of our children.
Jen: I think too, when you put, you know, when you have, you're trying to will your child to be a certain way and bringing it back to body image, what we have talked about in a previous podcast is sometimes the biggest hurdle for mothers and fathers as far as letting go and doing the things that we kind of know need to be done to help your child develop a healthy relationship with food comes down to accepting your child's body for what it is sometimes, you know, and that can be really a big hurdle for men and women and they come, you know, men, we all come with our own experiences. So for a woman who grew up being teased about her weight on the playground and that that becomes a wound and that wound goes festering her whole life. And then she has a daughter and starts from a very young age trying to control her daughter's food intake because she's so afraid of her daughter being fat and having that same experience that is such a hard thing to deal with.
Jen: But ultimately you have to, you know, our own body acceptance is one thing. But as a parent you have to accept your child's body as well for what it is. And it can just, it can be so tempting and some people just do it unconsciously trying to kind of control their child's body size. But ultimately I don't think you're doing your child any favors, you know, by trying to, will them into a certain body size so they don't get teased. You need to work on developing that resiliency at home and that positive body image and-
Renae: and a lot of that comes down to language as well, too. And learning to talk about our bodies in a way of like what is your body capable of doing and exercise is so important. Not even, like there's so many health benefits that you are all aware of for exercise from, you know, depression and anxiety and just in addition to just bodily health benefits and you know, for mental health benefits as well too. And but reframing exercise and reframing moving our bodies in a way not to reduce our shape or to change our weight, but rather to promote health because then we're moving from a place of not lack. We don't, we want to move to a place of fullness and not where we're changing our bodies to become smaller, to become, to reduce in size but rather to become more fully alive and more fully who we are.
Renae: And I think a lot of that even, so that's one thing that we can do just when we come to exercise. But then the other thing with exercise, because it is so important, and I also, I have parents talked to me about this as well, is that, you know, do things together and make it fun and make it a time of like bonding and where you're experiencing your body in new ways together. And I mean, and it doesn't have to be something like going for a hike or going for a swim, you can do some simple things like dancing or my kids are really little so even like wrestling.
Renae: Lots of things that we can do where we can, like, move our bodies in just, like, daily ways that are fun and active. Right?
Jen: Right. Yeah.
Annie: It looks a lot more like play, you know, than, which I think trips a lot of people up, a lot of parents up when they think about, you know, getting active as a family. It's like I don't, when we get asked to have a family, it's not like we're doing an aerobics youtube class, we're, like, we're running and we're playing, we're jumping, we're, you know-
Renae: Playing hockey, climbing trees. Like there's lots that you can do and it's about lifestyle, though. It's learning to experience your body in a way as like a lifestyle that is a vessel to adventure and voyage in the world.
Annie: Yeah. Kind of on that same note, you were on the tip of the iceberg there, Renae is, your second point is to be mindful of your language by cultivating all of who they are and you know that we focus on what we value. So we need to value and grow all parts of our kids, which I don't know where you are exactly where you were headed but what comes to mind is my dad has the best of intentions, but all the time "What a pretty girl, what a pretty-" like to my daughter, "What a strong boy. What a handsome boy." It's just all very appearance space. And there's definitely, you know, the stereotypical little boy, little girl comments that he always gives. And I'm like, "But we're more than that." Is that, is that what you meant?
Renae: Exactly. And it makes sense that, you know, in first impressions that we do focus on appearance because we necessarily know somebody and we can see the outward physical experience of who they are. So we, you know, it's easy to make why we would focus on that, but especially little girls from such a young age and even a little boys, you know, they're so cute or they're so adorable.
If that's what we hear growing up time and time again, that is what we are going to value. You know, you think about the news, the news broadcasts, what's valuable, like, what's going on in the world, right? And so you hear it on every single news station and if every single news station is for our kids is highlighting their appearance, it's beautiful, it's wonderful, that's what they need to focus on.
Renae: That's what the is going to become at the forefront of their attention and what they're going to need to invest in, what they're gonna need to pay attention to. And so I really become so mindful even more now having kids and especially like my friend's kids or kids that I meet just focusing on just finding anything that I can compliment that focuses on the intention of cultivating their entire personhood. So if my kids are playing Lego, "Oh my goodness, that's so creative in what you've made that took a lot of hard work" or "Wow, you're so, you're so smart in how you figured out this problem" and really trying to help them expand their awareness about all the things that they are capable of doing and to help them just expand their awareness but then just place value on that and speak into that into their life to know this is good.
Renae: There's so many qualities about you that are so good as well. And that can be hard to do in the beginning. Especially when you see somebody that you know, just meeting your friends' little daughter that you've just met for the first time or just haven't seen her in a long time and she's wearing a really cute dress that she got a really cute haircut and you're like, "Oh you're so cute." And I don't think it's bad. And I really don't think it's bad to say, "Oh, you're adorable." But I would say, like, for every one comment that you give that is appearance-focused, try to find a five to seven comments that are not appearance focused because we live in a highly appearance-focused culture from just the fact that we live on our screens so often. And so it's natural that our attention goes to that.
Renae: So being able to cultivate all those other qualities, that's kind of where I'm going with being mindful of our language because again, that external voice that we hear, we internalize that voice. I was just talking to my debt to my husband yesterday about language growing up and about our bodies and experiencing our bodies. And I said, when I was younger my dad always used to pat me on the back really firm, and then say "solid as a horse." I loved horses and it was such a compliment to me because it meant I was strong and I was capable and I, and that and that always stuck with me. And so there's fun ways that you can do that as well. But yeah, that's just something that kind of like stood up for me and these voices become our voices as we get older.
Renae: I grew up, we covered this in one of our podcasts where Annie interviewed me and my sister and, we grew up with very different body types and so, Annie interviewed us on our experience of this and I grew up with people commenting on my body my whole life, like how thin I was, and I just, it was always there, which really speaks more to the women around me, what was going through their heads, right, than anything to do with me. But I would say that contributed greatly to how I ended up developing my values as a woman, right, of what was important.
And so I agree with you. I don't think there's anything wrong with commenting on someone's appearance or complimenting their experience, you know, but in context, like I love how you said, just really think about it in context of the world we live in. Like there's nothing wrong with telling a little girl she's pretty, or for me to tell Annie she looks beautiful today, but when you, yeah, when you put it in context of the world we live in, that's all we're acknowledging about women. And now we have a society full of women who are, you know, they're making themselves sick, trying to pursue appearance ideals that just aren't even healthy, right.
Renae: And it makes sense though, why we are pursuing this because it's so much more than our appearance. So we live in this world where we have these images of these idealized beauty standards where women are, tend to be thin. You know, they have flawless skin, they have this, there's so many factors that are unattainable and that continues to shift, you know, depending on kind of what decade that we are in, but there's still ideals of the case.
So this is what a woman looks like right now that, you know, she's considered the beauty standard, but it's not just that, it's this beauty standard. It's the subtext to that. It's this pairing of a beautiful ideal now, like an impossible ideal thanks to, you know, Facetune, Modiface or Perfect365 or any one of those apps or just Photoshop in general. So you have this impossible beauty ideal. But then you also have this, this pairing with love, acceptance, opportunities, mattering. All of these, these images are so closely tied to these deeper fundamental qualities that we all want as humans. We all want to matter.
Jen: Yes. Success. Lovable. Connection.
Renae: Exactly. And so we're automatically lured in when we see an image like this or we see, we see something that, you know, even on social media, there's a reason that those numbers are there. Like Instagram didn't, or Snapchat didn't make these platforms and think, I wonder if someone's going to use these platforms. It was like, of course not. They know there's a reason why these likes these views, these metrics are there. Because we conflate that with value and we, equate that to mattering to being seen and we all want to be seen.
Like that's, as humans, we're wired to be in connection with each other and so we need to acknowledge that it's complex and it makes sense why some of us, why a lot of us, why we strive to have this beauty ideal, but that's where it goes back to that media literacy and teaching kids about the subtext, about the deeper messages, about the deeper ideas of what's actually being depicted, about what actually is being shown here so that we can help them not only critically digest it but then invite experiences into their lives that are going to allow them to live a holistic life where they're not only thinking about their appearance or they're not only thinking about their, you know, their account following on whatever social media platform they're using because it's, it's a complicated issue and we need to, but they're smart and they can grapple with it from a young age and so we need to equip them from a young age because they're using these platforms from such a young age.
Annie: Which I think is a great segue into your third point, Renae, that you encourage parents to be mindful of how many reminders kids have of their appearance and clothing mirrors, cameras social media and how that shapes our value system. And I actually had that experience just the other day. I was thinking, like, I was just having a rough body image day, which, as it happens-
Renae: It does happen, yeah.
Annie: And it was just like, it just seemed like I wanted to capture these photos, or these selfies with my kids, but like, I just couldn't, like, it was just there. It was just right in front of my face all the time. Like every time I opened up Instagram it was like, you know, do an insta story, but I didn't want to be in the photo, but I wanted the photo and it was just like, you know, and then, and even how seeing other people's appearance reminded me of my own as well.
Annie: Like it had nothing to do with it, but it was like, I mean, I used to do this, I used to struggle a lot with this when I really, really struggled with body image, probably about five, 10 years ago. It was really hard for me to see other beautiful women because it was just a reminder of all the ways I was feeling. I couldn't just separate the two. I couldn't just admire her attributes or features or traits or whatever, or even see her for more than just a physical thing. I just really struggled to get beyond that and it was somehow I made it into a reflection of all the ways I was lacking. And I would imagine that young girls and boys are dealing with that just as much, if not more with the rise of social media.
Renae: Yeah. And I think just to even springboard off what you're saying there, something that isn't necessarily the most popular opinion, but I think it's something that we do need to acknowledge and grapple with is that beauty is,, there are objective standards of kind of like what is a beautiful person? And I mean it's hourglass shape for women. It's hourglass shape, it's clear skin, it's like bright hair, it's white eyes.
These are kind of universal standards of what a beautiful person is. And there's been a big push within the body positivity community and I think has been really well intentioned. But at the same time it's actually been perpetuating this obsession and this focus on our bodies because not people are not going to, like I said, it's been, not everybody is, you know, drop dead beautiful. They're just not. Because if we're all beautiful, then we're actually all average. Beauty is above average.
Renae: And the problem with that though is that with hearing that is thinking that "Well, then I'm of lesser value." And that's not at all what I'm saying, and I'm not even talking about inner beauty, we all have inner beauty and because inner beauty is defined by a wide, wide range of like of attributes and characteristics and it's way more important.
But this obsession with, you know, liking our bodies for everything that they are, you know, liking all our cellulite, liking every wrinkle, every stray hair, every whatever it is that perpetuates this value system where our focus stays on our bodies. And when we are scrolling on social media, unless you are following like dogs and panda bears or kitty cats, you're being focused on the body, that's just inevitably what's going on. And, so even as like for me as a body image researcher, I have to be so mindful of that.
Jen: And then even like living in Vancouver, I don't live in Vancouver but that's the closest big city that is where I live, Vancouver is world renowned for its architecture on glass, for example. And when what happens when you walk past a glass, like, a mirror, you see your reflection, you, like, check yourself out a little bit. That's just, it's natural. You don't want to feel, you don't need to feel bad about that. But what we do.
But then again, it's just that it's that energy that goes back to our appearance. And I think something that we really, really have to be mindful of is that we have a finite amount of mental energy. We have an absolute finite amount of mental energy. And if that is being devoted to our appearance, whether that is good or bad, that is energy that is going elsewhere that cannot be focused on cultivating all aspects of who we are. And so I've really started to take that to heart in my own life. And even just the way even I manage Free To Be and I manage the social media and I manage just the experiences that I invite into my life because it impacts us. It just does.
Jen: The other thing is that we have this as one of our questions in our Balance365 Self Love Journal. So if you take who you are and break it down into a pie chart and if you are kind and funny and a really good friend, a very supportive partner, you know, if you just break it down and if each of those takes up 10% of who you are, who you are, who you consider yourself to be, and appearance is in there, because appearance is part of who we are. If that is 10% of who you are, then when you wake up in the morning with a huge zit or whatever, it doesn't destroy you. It's just a little bit of who you are and you can still function and move along. Or maybe you aren't considered the standard of beauty in our society, but it's just a little piece of who you are, your appearance.
Jen: But the problem is I feel like we have a society of women who were taught that their appearance is 80% of who they are.
Renae: Oh yeah.
Jen: And so when they wake up in the morning with a zit, it just, it destroys them or whatever else is bothering them about their appearance. It destroys them and they can barely function in life because their body image is just so, so negative. Or if you have a bad body image day and knowing that your appearance is just a part of who you are, it can allow you to have a bad body image but still function where some people can't get out of bed in the morning when they're having a bad body image day and so really looking at all of who you are, which comes back to what were, you know you had said we need to start teaching our kids and complimenting them for the whole person that they are.
Because when we are just complimenting on appearance or just talking about appearance or just scrolling social media and looking at other people's appearances we're starting to build this idea that women are their appearance and then it's just so, so, so then it just becomes, then of course if your parents are 75% of who you are, then 75% of your mental energy is going to go into trying to improve your appearance. But women are just, they are just so much more.
Renae: We're so much more than that and yet we're that, that focus on it from such a young age goes to our appearances. So it makes sense that it's so hard to break out of those, like, corseted ideals that we, that we bind ourselves to because that is how we're reinforced and we can't be naive, like, we are, we are rewarded when, when we ascribe or when we try to follow them and let me qualify that, some of us are rewarded and, but we have to be very aware that, that, that power that we get from that that's super short lived.
Because it's not true power if, you know, it's going to expire when you're 30 or when your appearance is going to change or if something happens to you. Like that's, we need to, we need to be grounded and centred for deeper things. But it makes sense why we would feel that way and yet we can also work towards then living life differently as well too.
Annie: I've found too, unapologetically, about going to therapy, but one of the things I'm learning is that like my true power comes from within. Like, it's not, I don't get my power from compliments or praise or affirmation or validation from, I don't, I don't get to like outsource my power. And I've tried that for many, many years. Like if they like me then I like me. If they think I'm pretty, then I'm pretty. If they like my work then it's valuable and that feels good in the short term. But it's ultimately not sustain. Like it doesn't fulfill me. And so turning inward, like, do I like me? Who am I? What do I value has been like way more worth my energy than like trying to look a certain way or do a certain thing so other people like me.
Renae: And at the same time, that's like, that's hard to do to put, like, our own beliefs and to put that under a microscope because that can be super uncomfortable to kind of shift away from the thinking that we have had because it does feel good. And then when you think about social media, just going to say one more thing about social media here, you then we are rewarded with those short term signals of those likes, thumbs up and all those things and those things do feel good. You do get, you know the dopamine, a neurotransmitter like dopamine, you get a little rushed and that feels good, but the problem is then we, that's what we ended up seeking more and more and more of that, those short term, the short term validations. And we don't end up doing that deeper work of like, who am I?
Renae: What do I stand for? What do I like? And at the same time living in that tension about acknowledging that our body image concerns don't develop in a vacuum. They develop in context with other people. And so it's going to be so important that we realize that our healing is also going to develop in context with other people where we're going to have to have experiences where people teach us that we are enough, that we are good just the way we are, that we don't have to change, that we aren't too much or too little of something. That healing also is going to have to occur in relationship because we are, we are so wired for relationship. And so it's a, although we want to have, you know, that internal locus of control, we also are dependent on others to be able to have that and also to be seen.
Renae: Cause we need to be seen, we need to matter. And that all happens in context with others. And so it's, I think sometimes I get frustrated when I walk on, when I scroll on social media and I see all these self love inspo quotes and it's, we're shortchanging ourselves because developing these issues didn't develop in isolation. And so healing these concerns isn't also gonna occur in isolation. I just don't, I think that you can find healing through groups on social media, but I'm always so wary of the system, you know, again, because we are rewarded for these likes and these comments and it pulls us and it's so, so powerful.
So being able to have conversations like we're having right now where I can see your faces and I can see your expressions. I can see the way you're moving. It's so much more telling than, you know, just liking a post that you put online and it's way more healing and even embodying to be able to do this. And it takes, it's more holistic. It's part of, like, a whole personhood. And again, that goes back to the healing of who we are.
Jen: I wonder what your opinion is on, like, a lot body acceptance slash self love bloggers, influencers, whatever you want to call them. They post photos of themselves, their bodies, you know, in bikini or underwear and supposedly exposing these flaws, right? These "flaws." And people love it and I've heard there's larger organizations like Beauty Redefined talking about how, look if we're trying to acknowledge women as a whole person, we have to move past this constant, you know, barrage of women's bodies.
Like if, you know, if you want to love the whole person then we have to look at the whole person. We just can't keep seeing women in bikinis or their underwear showing stretch marks and, I understand what they're saying, but I have to say that personally when I saw that shift start on social media, this is before we founded this company and everything, that was extremely healing for me to see other women's bodies that looked like mine. Like I remember the first time feeling like wanting to sob. Like there's other people out there that look like me.
Renae: Yes, absolutely and I do struggle with this because it's something that it's very, it's very healing to be, when you see yourself represented, you see, you see that as valuable. I think it is important that we do have a wide range of bodies that are out there. And my body has changed drastically after giving birth and being able to see other women's bodies out there, see stretch marks, see saggy boobs, see different things is normalizing and it and that speaks to that deeper issue of wanting to connect and be seen. Right?
And we can feel shame when we carry these fears in isolation and we think that we're the only ones and there's just healing by feeling known. And so I think with those photos and that, those, this wider representation of bodies shown is helping a lot of us being known, be accepted. And that in and of itself is healing. And yet at the same time, I also hold the same viewpoint that we do need to move past. We do need to move past just focusing on women's bodies. But they're both incredibly important steps, I think you could say. Or just things that we need to acknowledge intentions that we need to work with. We just can't, we can't dismiss the one and say that it's not healing.
Jen: It's almost like a phase, you know, I had a phase where I was following any woman I could find who was showing her body because I just, I knew I wanted more and more and more of it because it was just so validating for me. Like I just, I felt a release. I felt this just, "Oh my gosh. There's other people out there that look like me" and, but now I feel like I'm in a different phase where I've sort of like, "Okay, yes, there are many other bodies that look like mine and bodies come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and I don't need that in my life as much anymore." Now it's like there's like a phase, I think. Like I feel like I'm on phase two at this point where I-
Annie: I personally feel like, cause I feel the same, Jen, but I still post those photos because from time to time, because I do acknowledge that, like, I can acknowledge, like, I know that there's bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but I also know that there's still so many women like you and me and Lauren, you know, five years ago that needed that photo.
Jen: Right. And I see it, I see when you do post pictures of your stomach, Annie, I see when when your stomach is visible in a post, you know, women appreciate it so much. They see this woman who is happy, who is powerful, who loves her body, and has, you know, positive body image and also, is unashamed of these parts of her body that our society-
Annie: My humanness.
Jen: Humanness has told us is wrong. It's something that should be hidden. Something we should be trying to fix, something we should be deeply ashamed of. And so I still see it. I still see it because there's always new mothers coming. You know, sometimes we get disconnected almost from what a new mom experiences. And I look back and think, my goodness, the change in me from when I had my first 10 years ago to now like, I mean I thought my body was ruined.
I thought I was an abomination after I had my first baby and I can't and I have to, I have to constantly remind myself that there are women who are feeling like that every single day because it's, you know, things have shifted for me. But I think we live in a world where there's more talk of body image today than there ever has been. Like 10 years ago, I feel like it wasn't even an option to love your postpartum body. It wasn't. Where now it's an option, but we still have to make women aware of it.
Renae: I think that the tricky line or the line that we want to be aware of, especially from when I think about the research standpoint behind this is the objectification. So when I think sometimes of when I scroll through social media and I see photos of someone posing in a very objectifying pose and then they have this like liberating quote underneath, if you took away the quote and you just were to see the image for what it was, it can reinforce women as being objectified. And again, that's something that, and because we have limited mental energy when we are, when we objectify ourselves, we can internalize that voice. And we then we view our bodies as objects to be consumed, as objects that are, like, viewing pleasure for somebody else. And again, it's so subtle that because we just, we are inundated with diet culture.
Renae: We're inundated where women are still seeing so often, in an objectified sense. And so it's something that I just, I really am very mindful of with myself, with even like, even just the research and what I encourage people to do as well too, thinking about, you know, like I do think it's so good to post to how photos of diverse ranges of bodies, but there's a big difference between posting a body that is, you know, having fun or happy or like doing something versus a body and like, and then let's say, you know, I've got stretch marks or I'm, or I've got the, you know, my body's changing.
I want to be able to show this is what a body can look like. And this is an aging body and this is a good, and I'm still having fun and I'm having, and this is great, but there's a difference between posting a photo like that versus spending, you know, a long time like A, photoshopping my photo, taking a hundred selfies and then wanting to post only the right photo and then doing it in a way that's, like, very objectifying.
Renae: I think we really have to think about like our intentions behind why we are posting those photos. And again, that's not like the most popular opinion to hold. But then when you again, when you look at the research and when you look at how much time and energy we invest into our bodies, I think it's just, we only, we only get one life to live. And I think that's like the driving force behind why I'm so passionate about this message is we get one life to live. And when, I was just at a funeral on the weekend and prior to the funeral I had felt like I had nothing to wear. And then when I was in, when I was sitting in my chair and I was listening in the church to what was being said. And it
was, she was an absolutely amazing lady.
Renae: I was like, it would just, it just puts everything into perspective for me again about my goodness, I get one life to live. I want to live my life. I don't want to worry about these additional pressures that I invite into my life. And so tying that all back to the initial conversation about like, about the images that we're seeing out there, I think it's healing. We just need to be mindful of how much energy we're investing into it. Cause when you're dying, we're not going to think, "Oh, I wish I posted more photos of, you know, of my body doing this." And yet at the same time we want to be like, I feel comfortable because I did see women in their bodies, right? So-
Jen: Yeah. Right. That's a perfect response.
Annie: I want to be mindful of our listeners times here. And I know I have, I'm looking at the outline and I have questions that I still wanted to ask you. So what I would love to do is invite you back next month. How's that sound?
Annie: Like we said at the beginning, we could talk about this forever and ever. But
before we pop off, I know that you have a special gift for our listeners. Do you want to tell them about that?
Renae: Yes, I would if I, for anybody that's listening, if you would like to be trained in Free to Be our research based curriculum, it helps, it's for youth in grades five, six, seven and eight. It helps develop media literacy, cultivate their individual and their group strengths. It really helps with developing gratitude and just a whole, it's a six session program and I want to be able to offer any listener that's out there 30% off the curriculum so you can use the discount code. I believe it's FreeToBeBalanced and I don't know if you're going to link to that in the show notes or anything like that.
And so that we can take this conversation outside of, you know, this wonderful podcast and you can actually start to have these conversations with your kids and you can even potentially have your, if you're a teacher you can be trained to run it in your school. And so that we can continue to spread this impact wider because I do just think that there's such a powerful shift that's happening now with the conversations that we are happening and people are wanting and especially kids, they want to have these conversations. And so you are welcome to use a discount code FreeToBeBalanced and to get 30% off the curriculum.
Annie: That's so awesome. Thank you so much.
Annie: So excited. We're changing the world.
Renae: Yes we are.
Annie: Okay. Well thank you so much for joining us. We have to come. I want you to come back because I know Jen in particular to had a great question about addressing all of these topics with boys and if there's any differences that we need to be mindful of in our approach and our discussion and our topics. And, because you do work with boys and girls, which I think is really great that this, your program is not just for females. So, we'd love to have you back. We'll set up a time and continue this talk. Okay?
Renae: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Jen: Thanks Renae. Bye.
Annie: This episode is brought to you by the Balance365 program. If you're ready to say goodbye to quick fixes and false promises and yes to building healthy habits and a life you're 100% in love with, then checkout Balance365.co to learn more.